Art and Health Go Hand in Hand at MGH

By Jack Kiyonaga, Editor 

Photo by Dewitt Jones.

“What do you want the art to say?” asked Dewitt Jones, longtime photographer and Molokai resident. 

He gestured along the walls of Molokai General Hospital, adorned with huge canvases capturing May Days, Makahiki, rodeos: Molokai people and Molokai days gone by. These are just some of the estimated 120 photos decorating the hospital. 

“When the nurses go away, it’s just the walls,” said Jones. “You feel very alone.” 

Jones’ hope is that pictures of local people, places and scenes help those who enter and work at the hospital to feel more at peace. 

“You come to a hospital. It’s scary, unknown. Seeing pictures of people you know, pictures that are vibrant and cheerful, it helps people relax and it gives them something to focus on,” said the Molokai General Hospital President Janice Kalanihuia. 

Kalanihuia explained that there have been two phases by which Jones’ photographs have been installed in the hospital. The first was over 15 years ago, when the hospital was being renovated. Just this past year, Jones approached Kalanihuia with the idea of adding new photos. Kalanihuia eagerly accepted, and the most recent ones were installed just a few weeks ago. Jones donates his photos, but the hospital pays to have them printed and mounted. 

These new pictures had an instant impact on the hospital landscape. 

“I see people standing in front of this art, just staring at it,” said Kalanihuia. 

For hospital workers, the art provides a welcomed relief as well. 

“We just sit there and eat and just stare at it. It calms us and relaxes us to get ready to go out and do the second half of our shift,” Kalanihuia explained.  

Photo by Dewitt Jones.

Molokai General Hospital, preceded by a hospital in Ho’olehua run by the Episcopal Church, was established in 1963 after Molokai Ranch donated 11 acres to the project. 

“When it was being built…the community really pitched in,” explained Kalanihuia. 

The hospital was originally managed by a local group called the Molokai Community Association. When medical reimbursement practices changed in the 1980s, the hospital fell on hard times. Eventually, Queen’s Health Systems stepped in and took over. 

Kalanihuia has worked at Molokai General Hospital since 1977 and has been president for over 20 years. Now, Kalanihuia explained, the hospital struggles to attract the kinds of physicians and specialists needed, specifically in family practice and internal medicine. Even though the hospital is designated as a critical access hospital and a rural health clinic, they have no specialists, no anesthesia and no surgical care. 

Part of the problem, according to Kalanihuia, is attracting doctors to Molokai’s lifestyle. 

A typical recruiting conversation sounds like, “Well, my son takes gymnastics three days a week, and my daughter is going to be a concert pianist,” explained Kalanihuia. “How about learning to fish?” she offers them.

The other issue putting off potential medical providers offering service on Molokai is Mokulele Airlines’ frequent delays. These delays make single-day visits for doctors difficult to schedule. 

“It’s super tough,” said Kalanihuia. 

Even with these challenges, Kalanihuia and Jones intend on bringing peace to those entering the hospital through the art.  

The photos “have a certain flavor of being Molokai,” said Jones. “The sense of ‘ohana here, that’s really what I was trying to say in those pictures.” 

To this end, Jones shot photos of local families at beaches, sunrise at Mo’omomi, which he called “one of the true religious services of the world,” keiki on bikes, and more.  

A 20-year career as a National Geographic photographer prepared Jones to deliver images like the ones at the hospital – crisp, engaging and personal. 

“Aloha and ‘ohana — I think they both permeate this place,” he said. 

Jones hopes that more people will come check out the art at the hospital. They can see their friends, their places, their community, and share in Dewitt’s assertion that “I’m proud to be on Molokai.”


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